So after about a five-year interval, I finally went in for an annual physical last week. I found a local doctor who is cash-friendly, which means he still takes insurance but also has a clear and simple fee schedule for those of us who are self-pay. All in all, I was very pleased and satisfied with the doctor (no, I’m not telling you who it was).
There was one thing that I discovered however, and pointed out to the doctor – his charges for labs were generally higher than what I could have had them done for had I gone elsewhere for the tests. They weren’t radically higher though, so it’s not like I was getting hit with ‘list’ prices that are normally used with insured patients (who of course get a ‘discount’ off of the inflated list price in our crazy world of health care prices).
He was surprised when I told him his lab prices were more than they needed to be, and said he’d love to find lower-cost labs since so many of his patients are self-pay. I spoke with him today, letting him know what I found. I thought it might be of interest to readers at The Self-Pay Patient as well.
I had a total of 6 tests from a single blood draw and urine sample. The tests and the charges were:
Comprehensive Metabolic ($45)
Vitamin D ($45)
Complete Blood Count ($40)
The total for the lab tests came to $240 after adding a $10 fee for the blood draw and specimen handling. How might I have fared had I gone to an independent lab to had the same tests done?
According to Econolabs, a discount lab service that contracts with labs around the country, I’d have saved $40, cutting my total cost down to $190. Here are the prices I found on their site:
Comprehensive Metabolic ($28)
Vitamin D ($58)
Complete Blood Count ($25)
So two of the tests would have been more expensive and four less expensive, for total savings of $40. Econolabs doesn’t charge a blood draw or specimen handling fee, so I’d have saved $10 there too.
I also looked on the site Save On Labs, and found prices for several of the tests I had done. Their prices were generally more than Econolabs, but still less in most cases than those charged at my doctor’s office. For example, Comprehensive Metabolic test was $31.50 at Save On Labs, compared to $45 at my doctor’s and $28 at Econolabs.
The key to saving on these sorts of lab tests, of course, is to not go to the hospital for them – that’s where self-pay patients tend to get gouged the worst. But even at a cash-friendly office it pays to check the prices for labs and other services. In my case I neglected to ask beforehand how much the lab tests would be, so I wound up paying a bit more than I would have otherwise.
Fortunately, my doctor said that he called the lab he uses and they said they’d match the Econolab prices “across the board,” meaning I’d get the lower rates for four of the tests and the higher ones for the other two. Fair enough, so I eventually did save the $40 and it was probably worth the $10 in blood draw and specimen handling fees not to have to run around to another place.
I also found it interesting that when we were discussing the one prescription he gave me, for vitamin D, he told me “there’s a site called Goodrx.com you can go to to find the best prices.” Of course, GoodRx.com is one of my favorite sites, and I plan to follow my doctor’s advice here!
One final note – as self-pay patients, we often know more about some aspects of the self-pay market than the actual medical professionals. Be sure to share information with your cash-only and cash-friendly doctors about where self-pay patients can get the best value for their money, so they can incorporate that information into their practice.